One of our favorite things to geek out about is characters. Who they really are, what they believe, what they do, why they do it. And one of our favorite ways to think about characters and their underlying beliefs and philosophies is with the Dungeons and Dragons alignments.
If you have not thought about the solid, real-world applicability of alignments before, you should do so now. Then read on.
Our thought would be to explore a few characters (or groups of characters) that match each alignment. We may also highlight some particularly difficult to place characters. (That means you, Kvothe.) So what sorts of themes are we seeing as we think about it?
As I try to group characters into various alignments, I keep ending up with robots and computers solidly in the Law alignments. By no means the original intent of the fantasy context behind the D&D alignments, it nonetheless creates an interesting side effect: In a lot of science fiction, the characters end up looking chaotic in comparison to the cold logic of androids, robots, and cyborgs. Everyone on the Enterprise seems a little chaotic in comparison to Mr. Data.
To look at a different genre, in superhero stories, the superheroes are almost always some level of vigilante. As such, the good guys actually end up pretty heavily chaotic. Especially the ones we like: the confident anti-heroes are totally chaotic. So not only do their enemies end up being evil to their good, but the bad guys often (but by no means always) end up being lawful. Think the evil genius who works at taking over society – he still wants and expects a society, but as Doctor Horrible says, “The world is a mess, and I just need to rule it.”
When you remove the law components, what does good mean? It is actually very freeing to consider morality separate from the constraints of the law. Clearly we like to do so, if so many of our heroes are chaotic vigilantes and anti-heroes. Good, then, can be about something more than yourself. However, it separates from something like the true neutral – separate from harmony and balance, separate a bit from the natural world. Good has more to do, then, with good for people.
Evil is not necessarily just killing and madness. After all, this is a space where adding law and chaos in deepen the understanding of evil. Evil is not just wonton destruction, though it can be. Evil is selfish, but is not all selfishness. Evil disregards the needs or desires of others. Groups of evil people never seem to do very well for very long. However, how many people self-identify as evil? (Here’s looking at you, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.)
Neutral, then, is so interesting. Neutral and any of the others is someone who is more of a pure expression of the other aspects – all about good, or evil, or law, or chaos. For me, the real good guy is neutral good; the real villain to watch out for is neutral evil. And your average citizen, your real-life person, is in general lawful neutral – generally following the rules of society, looking out for themselves but also others, to various levels and extents. We tend to like looking at the extremes because we are not the extremes ourselves. However, I think that some of the most stunning things we see in fiction can come from a True Neutral sort of place – can come from a place of harmony and balance.
So we’ll be looking at some greatest hits from science fiction, fantasy, comics, and anywhere else that seems fun. So, this would be a great place to get us thinking now: Who would you include in a character study? Who would you like to see us include?